There Are So Many Things Wrong With This Alabama Middle School Rape Case

The news: Staff at a Huntsville, Ala., middle school used a 14-year-old special needs student as "bait" in a plot to catch another student suspected of sexual assault — only for her to allegedly end up being raped during a botched sting operation in the boy's bathroom. 

Now the victim and her family are working with the U.S. Department of Justice, which has accused school district administrators of "deliberate indifference" regarding the sexual assault.

"A school board cannot avoid summary judgment as a matter of law when a school administrator willfully ignores a plan to use a 14-year-old special needs student as bait to catch a student with a known history of sexual and violent misconduct, and as a result, the student is sodomized," reads the federal brief filed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last week.

Um, what? In 2010, Sparkman Middle School staff learned that a student with a long history of sexual misconduct had repeatedly propositioned another female special-needs student for sex, but felt that they could not take action since district policies required all such accusations to be substantiated. 

In a horrifically misguided plot to catch the suspect in the act, they asked a female special-needs student to act as bait, luring the alleged rapist into a bathroom where teachers would be present to intervene. She initially refused but later consented to the proposed trap.

The plan predictably went awry when the rendezvous occurred in a different bathroom, and the special-needs student was anally raped as teachers failed to show.

No one was fired as a result of the incident, which left the victim traumatized. No criminal charges were filed against school officials or the assailant. In fact, as Gawker reports, an assistant principal who knew of the plan was promoted to principal at a nearby school district despite failing to prevent the incident. The teacher's aide who originally proposed the sting was put on leave and later resigned.

The student who allegedly committed the rape was punished for inappropriate touching. His punishment was limited to a five-day suspension and transfer to another institution, but somehow he returned to Sparkman after less than a month. 

It gets worse, according to CNN: "Vice Principal Dunaway testified that the girl was responsible for herself once she entered the bathroom, according the brief. ... Federal attorneys say details about the severity of the [boy's previous attacks] are unavailable because school administrators shredded the boy's disciplinary files."

Good God. With "15 violent or sex-related proven incidents of misconduct before the alleged rape,"  according to CNN, he never should have been allowed near the girl alone. Stunningly, the school's leadership thinks that they handled everything quite well, given the circumstances. 

"It's a sad situation," Principal Ronnie Blair told media in 2010. "At the same time, I feel very comfortable with the way the situation was handled. That's about all I can say."

In other words, despite orchestrating the entire incident and then shredding relevant records after the fact, everyone involved in creating the situation that led to the rape is insisting that it was not their fault but the unidentified victim's. Other than being textbook victim-blaming, the Department of Justice argues that the district's "deliberate indifference to known acts of peer sexual harassment" constitutes a violation of Title IX.

Hopefully the district and its callous, irresponsible administrators will be held responsible for their horrific judgement, but the damage they've inflicted on the victim can never be undone. 

"It has essentially devastated her life," attorney Eric Artrip told CNN. "We hope that the attention that this case is getting will spur a movement on these kinds of policies so that a girl can simply report sexual harassment without having a need to bring a witness with her or roll up her shirt and show bruises."

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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